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Apaches tough out win over Zebras

BY ERIC SEAMAN - Plain Dealer Correspondent

The Wabash girls’ basketball team found itself in a hostile environment on its home court on Saturday against a visiting Rochester squad, fans and all.

Things got heated between the two teams, but the Apaches came out victorious by a final score of 50-38.

Wabash head coach Matt Stone was able to get his first win over the Zebras in his fourth try in as many seasons on Saturday night thanks to an advantage in a game of runs. The aggressiveness early on by Wabash, though, might have been a little too strong as the Apaches committed nine fouls in the first quarter alone.

Rochester got on the scoreboard first as Corina Peterson split two free throws, but that would be the only lead that Rochester would have for the entirety of the night.

Wabash’s Hope Unger would respond to the early disadvantage with a three-pointer, but would soon after pick up her second foul and would be subbed out.

While Rochester couldn’t put the ball through the basket from the floor for the entire first quarter, Wabash would have struggles keeping out of foul trouble.

Following Unger was senior Bailey Yoakum, who would pick up her third foul of the game with about 40 seconds left in the opening period.

But the Apaches were able to go out of the first with a 14-1 lead largely due to outdueling Rochester on the boards, despite Rochester having the taller roster. Sophomore Carmen Higdon also made her presence known on offense as she recorded half of her team’s points in the first eight minutes of play.

The first field goal for Rochester wouldn’t fall until a minute and a half into the second quarter on a three-pointer by Morgan Ruff.

Wabash freshman Alivia Short would reply with a basket underneath, but junior Abby Vinopal would commit her team’s 10th foul of the game with just over five minutes left in the half, this one on Rochester’s Maci Brown, who would take the foul and hit her shot to bring her squad closer by a score of 16-7.

Fortunately for the Apaches, they didn’t commit another foul for the remainder of the half on Saturday.

Stone said that his team kept its intensity the same in the second quarter despite foul trouble, but instead elected to counter Rochester’s offense with a half-court 2-3 zone rather than a 2-2-1 full-court press.

“What the early part of the game dictated is that we had to quit pressing,” Stone said. “We were in so much foul trouble. Holy smokes. I have Bailey with three (fouls), who’s really my only guard now that (Tristan) Vigar is out and then I got three other starters with two (fouls).

“We had to quit pressing, but I think our kids still did a great job on defense…I really was proud of them.”

The lead for the Apaches early in the second would widen with baskets and free throws by Vinopal and Higdon. On back-to-back possessions with around a minute left, though, Rochester’s best post option in Kennedy Musselman would use her size and touch to sink a three-pointer and then a shot under the basket after an offensive rebound to bring the score to 22-12.

Unger would then connect on a three-pointer with 39 seconds left and the Apaches would go into halftime up 25-12.

Coming out of halftime down 13, the Zebras turned the heat up with an 8-0 run with Yoakum still on the bench with three fouls for Wabash.

Stone took note and plugged his point guard back on the court and it resulted in a 10-0 run and a 35-20 lead.

“So I’m not going to start Bailey (in the second half) because she has three fouls and then they put the run on us to start the third quarter, so I have to bring her back in,” Stone said. “She played great.

“For her to go from that point to the end without fouling again, to steady the ship because she’s our true ball-handler and to take care of things, especially the way I chewed on her at halftime, she really answered the bell and really did a good job.”

In the final minute of the third, Emma Dahlquist would hit a floater to bring the Apache lead down to 13, but with 13 seconds left, Short would be fouled by Musselman, her fourth, and split the free throws.

A 6-2 run by Rochester within the first two minutes of the fourth would bring them within 10, but junior center Tabatha Wagner converted on a jump shot and Short would succeed on a post fade-away over Musselman to get the Apaches back up by 14.

A few minutes of playing time later, with the Apaches up 44-33, Rochester head coach Lisa Pflueger was called for a technical foul after responding to a no-call on a travel by the Apaches. Yoakum would make both free throws as a result of the technical.

For the remainder of the game, the Apaches would be fouled by Rochester as a last-game attempt to come back in the contest, with Wabash making 4-of-5 free throw attempts. Rochester would close the game on a 5-0 run in the final 25 seconds, but would leave defeated at Coolman Gymnasium.

Leading the Apaches in scoring was Higdon, who tallied 15 points. Supporting her in her scoring role were Yoakum, who scored 10, Short with nine, Unger with eight, Wagner with four and Vinopal and Kiley Stone with two points each.

Musselman and Brown would score nine points each to lead the Zebras.

Early on, the smaller Apaches outhustled the taller Zebras on the boards, a trend that wouldn’t fall through the whole game, but it was a facet of the sport that Stone has been preaching to his players recently after losing at Norwell earlier in the week 84-39.

“We haven’t been rebounding well lately. It’s been frustrating,” Stone said. “I just thought our kids played harder (tonight). I mean, we got embarrassed Wednesday night. It was terrible. I just thought we did a great job of bouncing back and being ready to play and playing with some energy and getting after it a little bit.

“We were on the floor more in the first quarter tonight than we were the whole game the other night.”

The win now brings the Apaches back to .500 with a record of 5-5 and snaps a three-game losing streak. Rochester, meanwhile, sits at 8-4.

“It was a big game for us,” Stone said. “Period. After taking (Tippecanoe Valley) into overtime last Saturday, we felt like we let one get away from us where maybe we could have gotten a foot up in (conference play) and so we wanted to get back to .500 in the conference and after the way we played Wednesday we needed a win.

“I’m glad to know we beat Rochester finally, but it was just more important for us to play well and win and that’s what I’m happy about.”

The Apaches will host the top-ranked team in 2A, Oak Hill, tonight with tip-off scheduled for 7:30.